Basic epidemiology, surveillance, active case detection, case investigation and follow up, and contact tracing is not a problem for the students and graduates of Epidemiology Intelligence Program (EIP) Malaysia. Field epidemiology is our domain, where we excel in and it’s what we are trained to do. But getting prepared to assist at the Ebola situation in West Africa is a totally different scene altogether. There are a lot of unknown factors that have contributed to this massive outbreak of Ebola with large numbers of affected population. This is the first time in history that Ebola has spread to such a magnitude, affecting population in cities and crossed borders. The number of cases keep mounting. The EIP team has been told that some may be called upon to be deployed to West Africa and we need to be prepared. Therefore, not only do we need to learn about infection control and prevention, we need to be totally competent and prepared to face all the challenges thrown at us as even a small mistake may cost us.
Hence EIP Malaysia under the auspices of Dato Dr Fadzilah and Dr Rosmawati organised a workshop in Seremban from 11 to 13th September, 2014 for potential candidates who may be called upon to assist in West Africa. A total of 21 participants and trainers attended. The trainers were EIP graduates. The aim of the workshop was to make the participants well aware of the current Ebola situation and enhance their skills in the field. This included practical session on donning and removal of appropriate PPE’s to cover various aspects of anticipated functions in the field. The process of donning and degowning was repeated till the participants were confident and comfortable with the usage. When in the field, job specifications may not always be very clear so all were taught to also carry out disinfection; how to use the spray can, chemicals used, process of mixing the chemicals and teaching others if need be.
They were also briefed on factors that contributed to the health workers being affected, life in West Africa, and challenges on working in an unknown environment with limited resources. Participants were encouraged to get themselves prepared with the necessary vaccinations as they may be required to be deployed to any of the affected countries with minimum notice. The priority vaccinations would be yellow fever, typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, measles and DTaP. There were also other essential equipment and supplies that would need to be readied such as torchlights, jackets, sleeping bags, and bed nets to survive in the field. They were also advised on how to get their personal affairs in order to cater to all possibilities. The participants enjoyed themselves getting prepared in spite of the underlying apprehension at the daunting task ahead – this is what we are trained to do and we will do it well.
The final discussion was to get feedback from the candidates on their willingness to be deployed, their views on the matter, their availability, their personal affairs that may affect their ability to be deployed at short notice and other constraints that they may face. There is a lot of uncertainty but all are aware that if we can in any way to assist, then EIP Malaysia is ready to the fore.